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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

STEFAN   GEORGE   AND   HIS   CIRCLE                137

and the magic lies not in the description of the scene but in the
association of ideas with the evocative melody of the individual
words: 'swan3, for instance, is not the ornithological specimen
but the snow-white neck, gleaming over dark waters, of Hebbel's
poem1 or (we might add) fondling the thighs of Leda2; this swan,
as the word awakens ripples of memory, floats double, swan and
shadow.3 The magic, then, is in the words, not in the symbol;
which recalls Herder's too energetic definition of poetry: die in
den Worten innewohmnde 'Kraft. But the magic may lie, too, in a
startling transposition of sense: Der reinen wolken unverbofftes blau
for instance - the blue is really between the clouds; but these must
be 'rein\ since they are rimmed with bays of blue. The Superscrip-
tions at the heart of the book are, as self-characterization, superb.
The pose of the poet tragic because poet is apt to be slightly comic,
and the self-portrait of the second Sprmh fur die geladenen in T. is
that by which those who scoff at George's 'pose' know him - as
one fate-stricken in marble halls, melancholy even in the fulfilment
of his mission, toying with the flashing gem on his tapering finger,
clad in the purple of kings and with visage bowed down upon the
purple. There can be no hiding the fact that George's poetry is
from start to finish cult of self; and if aesthetics is a science de-
duced from extant masterpieces a canon should now be added to
the effect that adoration of the ideal self is as fruitful an inspiration
for poetry as adoration of the ideal female. In George's case the
obsession is not offensive, partly because the poems are so delicate
and subtle and partly because the poet himself is not shown as a
reality but as a shadowy form or rather all spirit.

Der Teppich des Lebens (1899) *s generally considered to be
George's most difficult work; the pattern of the book is that of
the Oriental carpet he describes in the first poem of Part II and
which we have quoted to characterize the form and tenor of his
poetry. The theme is - life; but life in the sense of the philosophers
as the primitive force which appears in terms of space and time
and which is only made conceivable to the human mind by the
dissolution of these terms in death. Death, however, since it re-
veals the limits of space and time, is the perfection or perfecting
(Vollendung) of life; here Stefan George touches Rilke, but whereas

1  Von dunkelnden Wogen.

2 Friedrich Schlegel, Prologue to Lucmde; Rilke's and Felix Braun's Leda.

3 Wordsworth: Yarrow Unvisited.